HAYS, Kan. – Southwestern Oklahoma State hit its first five field goal attempts of the game, jumped out to an early 14-point lead, and held off two strong rallies from Fort Hays State to claim the NCAA II Central Regional Championship 88-77 Monday night in front of a raucous crowd of over 5,000 at Gross Coliseum. Bulldogs senior guard and Great American Conference Player of the Year Hayden Priddy scored a game-high 32 points to lead the Bulldogs (33-1) to their first Elite Eight.
FHSU Postgame Press Conference
A rough start to the game was too much for the Tigers (32-2) to overcome in the battle of Top 10 nationally ranked teams. FHSU started the game 0-of-7 from the field until a Maddie Mittie layup just over six minutes into the game snapped the cold spell. While the Tigers were struggling from the field, SWOSU built a 16-2 lead and eventually led by 10 at the end of the first quarter, 23-13.
After shooting 57.1 percent from the field in the opening frame, Southwestern Oklahoma went on a 12-4 run to open the second quarter and built the lead to 18 with 7:41 to play. The Tigers fought their way back with a frantic 25-8 run to cut the lead to one with 34 seconds remaining in the first half. SWOSU hit a pair of free throws and Kasey Kennett had a 3-pointer rim out at the horn to give the Lady Bulldogs a 45-42 halftime lead.
The Tigers pulled within a point two different times early in the third quarter and had a chance to take the lead but following a missed shot, Priddy hit a three-pointer to push the Lady Bulldogs lead to four. FHSU trimmed the lead to two twice after that, but SWOSU answered with an 8-0 run to go up 10. Priddy buried the Tigers in a deep hole once more by scoring the final seven points of the third quarter and pushing the lead out to 16 after three quarters.
Fort Hays State used a 13-3 run to trim a 17-point deficit to seven, but SWOSU ended the rally with a pair of free throws with three minutes to go. The Bulldogs pushed the lead back into double figures with 2:42 to play and it never dipped under 10 the rest of the way.
FHSU struggled to find their touch behind the arc, finishing 2-of-16 from 3-point range. They did out rebound the Lady Bulldogs by 15 including a 19-5 edge in offensive rebounds. However, 14 more attempts at the basket was not enough to get past the Bulldogs.
Tatyana Legette closed out her tremendous collegiate career with a hard-fought double-double performance of 19 points and 13 rebounds. She also had a team-high five assists. Belle Barbieri also had a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds. Legette and Barbieri were named to the Central Regional All-Tournament Team along with Priddy, Hailey Tucker, and Taber Beer of SWOSU. Tucker finished the night with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Beer was the regional semifinal hero that hit a buzzer-beating shot to lift SWOSU into the regional title game. Beer finished the championship game with eight points and three steals.
Whitney Randall was a big spark for the Tigers, scoring a career-high 20 points off the bench. Legette produced her 10th double-double of the season and 22nd of her career, finishing with 1,256 points and 865 rebounds at FHSU. Barbieri had her seventh double-double of the season and career in the championship game.
The 32 wins for FHSU is a new record for the program’s NCAA Division II era. The Tigers were MIAA regular season and conference tournament champs, the first MIAA team to accomplish that since Washburn in 2012. FHSU reached the NCAA regional finals for the second time in the last five years and in each of those seasons, won at least 30 games.